Valdosta State developing potential treatment for COVID-19

Published: May. 6, 2020 at 5:02 PM EDT
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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

May 6, 2020

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- College classes are still online, but some students and faculty at Valdosta State University are still hard at work in the lab.

They're working on developing an antiviral that could be used to treat COVID-19.

University professor Dr. Thomas Manning says this development is a natural segue from several existing projects. Drug development has been going on at VSU for nearly two decades, mainly focuses on cancer treatment.

The last dozen years, he says there has been a shift to look at antibiotics.

Dr. Manning, working alongside a group of students, recently developed a drug to treat tuberculosis, now in clinical trials in India, a country still devastated by the disease.

Jenu Thomas-Richardson is one of the students apart of that project. She also continues to work in the lab every day on this COVID-19 treatment.

"It was awe-inspiring results, that's what I'll say. I was shocked," she said of the project.

On the heels of the tuberculosis development, Dr. Manning says they were focusing on the lungs, and how to better administer treatment without the side effects impacting other parts of the body.

That's when the pandemic hit.

"It's kind of like we went into overdrive the last two to three months, kind of adapting our antibiotics work and a little bit of our antiviral work to the COVID-19 situation," Manning said.

During a field study in the Florida Keys, the group discovered an antiviral out of a bacteria found in the ocean.

Originally considering this as possible treatment for lung cancer, the coronavirus inspired a new use.

The students have been running thousands of experiments over the last few weeks, developing ways to administer the drug.

They came up with two ways. Applications for both are now under review by the National Institute of Health for additional testing.

One of them, what Manning calls the more simple version, is designed to be more cost effective and accessible. He says it essentially attacks the infection on, so it can't build up a resistance.

"A lot of these viral infections have a resistance built up fairly quickly," Manning said. "So if you look at a lot of the drugs that come out, five years from now they might now work anymore."

Even during a global crisis, students are finding new ways to change the world.

"The more we work, the harder we work, the better we will be able to give a treatment, and hopefully one that works well," Thomas-Richardson said.

In a normal circumstance, NIH applications could take about six months to process. But because the need is so high, Manning says it could take a matter of a few days.

This is just one of several drug development projects is working on. They continue to look for treatment for cancer, HIV, Alzheimer's and malaria.